“If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (John 12v26)
Long ago, so far off in the distant past that no one now remembers it, there was a very large kingdom. Its lands were so vast that you could travel for years in any direction and never come to its borders. In fact, hardly anyone knew just how big it was.
Being so big, this kingdom contained all sorts of climates, people and places. There were lofty mountain peaks, so tall that their tops pricked through the clouds. Vast, grassy plains, stretched out as far as the eye could see. Dark, drowsy woodlands with thousands of old, gnarled trees. There were cold, icy places where the snow stayed all year long and hot, sandy shores onto which the blue waves tumbled.
There were sprawling cities, spiralling castle turrets and narrow back streets in which children played. Here and there were tiny villages surrounded by quiet fields, miles and miles away from anywhere. Truly, this kingdom was an enormous place!
Now, as I’m sure you know, all kingdoms must have a king. Else, why would they be called kingdoms? So you’ll probably have guessed by now that this kingdom was ruled by a king.
This great king was the best person this world has ever known and the cleverest. He cared about his kingdom, and all its people, very, very much. He spent each hour, of every day, of every year running his kingdom – and he never had a rest!
His people, though, rarely saw him in person. Of course, they saw and heard about all the things that he’d done. All the roads he’d laid, all the building he’d built and all the laws he’d made. So everyone knew that he existed – even when they didn’t like to admit it.
Actually, most of his subjects didn’t like their king at all, despite all he’d done for them. You see, they didn’t like his rules. “Don’t do this and be like that,” they’d grumble, “Why does he get to tell us what to do? Why is he running the kingdom anyway? I’m sure I could do a much better job.” They were always forgetting about his kindnesses; the food he’d given them, the houses they lived in and the clothes they wore.
Well, this great and wise king had a son. You know, of course, that all sons of kings are called princes – while all daughters are called princesses. This particular prince loved the people of this land just as much as his father did, and he and his father ruled the kingdom together in perfect harmony.
All the royal court lived in a palace, so wonderful and beautiful that I cannot begin to describe it. This palace sat upon the highest peak, of the tallest mountain in the whole kingdom. Almost everyone longed to gain entrance into this palace, yet very few knew how to.
One day, the prince set out from the palace to search for a certain boy who had run away from the palace and was now breaking every law the king had ever made. Why would anyone want to run from such a wonderful king? It seems like a very foolish thing to do. Yet the prince had great pity for this boy, so he set off to find him.
When the prince reached the bottom of the mountain upon which the palace sat, people began to follow after him. Some not only followed him but offered him many of their most precious possessions. Some presented him with fine clothes, others offered him money and gold, and still others pressed him to take from them supplies for his journey.
People did these things for all sorts of reasons. Some followed him because it made them feel proud to be near someone who was so important. Others hoped that he’d fix all their problems, or make them happy. Many came just to watch what was going on. Soon a large crowd was following him.
One said, “Your Majesty, it is so good to be with such a loving one as yourself. Let me follow you wherever you go.”
Another said, “Dear Prince! My life doesn’t seem to have meaning, let me find some in following you.”
“Sir, sir!” a third called out. “People such as I are so very poor and life is hard. Please make me happy and I will follow you too.”
Finally, the prince turned to face this crowd that was so eagerly following him.
“If you love me, then follow me,” he said.
“Why, yes!” they all cried out enthusiastically. “Of course we love you and will follow you to the end of this world.”
Well, people make a lot of fine promises, don’t they?
Now, the prince’s journey was a long one, for the boy had wondered a very long way away from the palace. A week of travel went by. Then a month. Then a whole year! Still the prince carried on his journey, while the group that followed him grew smaller and smaller and smaller.
Then one day, in the middle of nowhere, the prince stopped walking.
For there, right in front him, was a dirty looking, squelchy-old-bog – that smelled really bad. The prince stopped there because right in the middle of this bog was this sorry looking boy.
He was a long way from home now! On and on he had gone running as fast as he could, breaking the king’s rules over and over again. The further he ran the more dirty he’d gotten and the more worn his clothes had become – until eventually he’d fallen into this bog and got even dirtier still!
What was worse, every time he struggled to get out, the more deeper into the mud he’d sink. So now he’d given all hope of ever getting out and just hung his head in shame, slowly sinking deeper and deeper into the slimy, sticky mud.
The prince drew closer and stood on the bank. His eyes were full of pity. He put out a hand and took a firm grip on the boy’s collar. Then, with one almighty tug, the boy was pulled up out of the stinking mud and onto solid ground. Next, the prince took off his royal robe and threw it over the boy’s shoulders. It covered him from top to toe and shimmered in the sunlight.
Then prince turned around, calling out to the little crowd that still hung about him, “If you truly love me, if you would serve me, then follow.”
When they heard this, many of the crowd grew annoyed.
“Why?” demanded some. “Our friends already laugh at us for following you.”
“Ha!” said others. “How do we even know you are the great prince?”
“What! Follow you? So far all we’ve had is great misery for our pains. If you were such a loving prince, you’d treat us better,” added another.
One or two said, “Well, you see, we really like you, your Majesty. But we’ve just come up with this great idea about ways that we can serve you. They are much easier ways than yours. So we’ll just go along with our plans – if that’s alright with you.”
And so, one by one, they made their excuses and left the prince standing alone in the square with the rag-tag, little boy.
“Do you love me?” asked the prince.
The boy nodded.
“Then follow me.”
“Can I?” asked the boy, with surprised. “After all, I’ve broken all your laws, hated your very name and I smell pretty bad.”
But the prince smiled and said, “dear little one, you are forgiven. I have already paid for your all your crimes. You are now my servant – so follow after me.” And with that, he turned and started the journey homeward.
Now the boy’s heart leaped with joy at being allowed to follow his lord and he hurried off to be with his new master.
There was no crowds cheering the prince this time. Very few people in the country didn’t hate him. You see, because he was so good and loving, just by being there he was always reminding them of their faults. In fact, he reminded them of the king and his laws which they couldn’t keep and had no wish to keep.
So off they went. The prince didn’t seem to be so glamorous now. His clothes were worn and dust stained. His face was tanned by countless days of sun and beaten by windy nights of cold. No cheering crowds followed him. Instead, behind him was the solitary figure of the his new servant boy – always trying to place his feet in his master’s footsteps.
Every so often the boy would find food and then he would gladly share what he found with his master. Many times they had nothing and wouldn’t eat for days. In those times prince would look caringly at his servant and say, “Friend, if you truly love me, then keep following me.”
Now and then they would pass through a town or city. Usually some of the inhabitants would call out to the rag-tag, servant boy.
“You silly boy!” they’d say. “How can you follow him? Look at all the fun you’re missing.”
“Arrogant boy, do you think you’re better then us? Look at all the things you do which bring shame to your master.”
“You evil boy! Don’t you see what disgrace you’re bringing to you father and what about the pain you’re causing your mother?”
Then the prince would lay his hand gently on the boy’s tired shoulder and say, “If you love me, then follow.”
Once a man at a market stool called out: “Why go that way when there are much easier ones? Look! I have found this new method of serving the king. It is filled with prestige and ease, along with many great doings that the whole world will see and take notice of.”
Sadly, the lad’s heart began to turn, for the man’s offer did seem to have so much more offer then the way he was going. But, just in time, the prince turned and said sternly, “If you love me, then follow only my words.”
They had to travel through many dark valleys in their journey. Often in these the boy would stumble and fall. Whenever he did so, the prince would lovingly set him on his feet again. Then, with kindness in his voice, he’d say to the rag-tag, servant boy, “If you truly love me, then follow after me.”
Several mountain ranges had to be crossed to reach the palace. At times, when climbing their dizzying heights, the servant boy lost his grip on the cliff’s face and would have fallen to his death if the strong hand of his master had not caught hold of his at the last moment. Pulling the little boy back up and setting his feet back on the rock, the prince would say, “Dear child, if you love me as you say you do, then follow in my steps.”
So you see, the servant boy’s walk was never perfect, he would often fall. Yet wherever the prince was, there would be the servant boy also.
At last they came the final ascent to the great palace. The boy trembled when its walls came into view. Would he be accepted as the prince had said? Despite all that he had done?
But the prince knew his thoughts and offered his hand saying, “Dearest child, you don’t come here as a law breaker, but as my servant. You are welcome here just as I am welcome. Trust this my promise and follow.”
Some time later, all the criminals of the kingdom were brought into the high and lofty throne room of the king to be judged.
Lifting up their eyes, they saw the prince in all his glory, seated on a great throne at the right hand of his father. The sight of them both in all their majesty was awesome and a fearful thing to see. But do you know what else they saw?
There, beneath these thrones, in amongst those whom the great king counted as his family, was the rag-tag, servant boy. Except, he was not a ragged servant any more. For instead of rags he was dressed in clothes of the most brilliant white, made of the most costly material in all the universe, and upon his head was a crown of pure gold.
When all those who were being sentenced saw these things, they appealed angrily to those seated upon the thrones.
“How come he gets to be there and not us? He’s commit crimes as bad as ours – and far worse ones besides. He’s not at all smart, nor is he good looking. He never did anything which anyone will ever remember.”
Then the king replied, “Because we chose to save him, and it pleased us to keep him. All his crimes have been forgiven – paid for by my son. He was brought with a price and so became our servant. As such, he suffered with my son and was reproached with my son. He followed my son everywhere and anywhere. He was with my son in his shame and now he will reign with him in his glory. For my servants will serve me. To serve is to follow, and to follow is to obey.”